COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland senior linebacker Mike Jarmolowich lived in a nearby off-campus boiler room this summer. There were sleepless nights as toilets flushed constantly. Crickets and spiders were his roommates. He often smelled like a musty basement.
But he kind of liked it.
"The rent was cheap in The Dungeon," Jarmolowich said. "It would have been easy to go home and train, you know, run less sprints and do less reps, but I needed to be here where I could get the competition, where someone would push me. I know I have to have a very good season. It's the first time I'm the focus, the first time I'm the main dude."
It's hard not to notice Jarmolowich.
Off the field, he's the guy with designer clothes. He wears cowboy boots made from boa constrictor skin and silk shirts, always opened to expose his chest and gold chain. The hair: the John Travolta look from "Saturday Night Fever."
On the field, he's a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker who happens to be Maryland's best defensive player and a possible middle-round NFL draft pick.
Charles Barkley doesn't talk as much trash.
And Jarmolowich can spit as well as Barkley, too.
Two weeks ago, Jarmolowich plastered some on his own quarterback, John Kaleo, in practice.
"He's real intense all the time," said Steve Ingram, the starting left offensive tackle. "I have to look across at him in practice, and you can see the intensity in his eyes. He's like some other guys I know. Sometimes, you've got to hit him in the mouth a couple to times to earn their respect."
Jarmolowich doesn't mind. He grew up that way. He has heard the stories about the struggle his grandfather and father endured 41 years ago trying to get from Poland to the United States.
His father, Alex, grew up in a tough section of Newark, N.J. He was a 160-pound offensive guard in high school.
Mike Jarmolowich also watched his father work 80 hours a week as a self-employed floor installer in northern New Jersey, taking time off only to watch his son play football. His parents never had an opportunity to attend college.
"I think they live their dreams through me," Jarmolowich said. "They didn't have the best of lives, and here I am on a scholarship getting a free education. They're very proud of me. And, from them, I have learned only one way to play this game, and that's the hard way."
"But I hope I'm not setting them up for a big fall," Jarmolowich said.
Jarmolowich is alluding to playing in the NFL. Despite leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles last year with 153, he has gotten very little recognition. He made only the second All-ACC team last season.
When preseason publications came out in late July and early August, Jarmolowich was listed usually as the conference's third-best linebacker, behind Florida State's Marvin Jones and North Carolina's Tommy Thigpen.
Jarmolowich was not among the 48 players chosen for the preseason Butkus Award Watch for the nation's most outstanding linebacker, and he was the eighth-leading tackler in the country last year.
"At times, I feel slighted," said Jarmolowich, now one of the nominees. "But if you win games, you get the pub [publicity], When you lose, you get none. Sure, I'd like to be on national television two to three years. But they want to draw ratings. Maryland is not a top draw. I want to help change that, get this program moving in the right direction.
"I figure if I do my job, everything else will take care of itself," Jarmolowich said. "I know I can get my game off. People say I'm cocky, but you have to have an attitude to play this game. I know I talk a lot, but I back it up."
No argument there.
Jarmolowich was outstanding behind a mediocre defensive line last season when he was named the ACC's Defensive Back of the Week four times. His 304 tackles in only three years places him ninth on the Maryland all-time list and by the end of the 1992 season, barring injury, his name should be mentioned with the likes of linebackers Eric Wilson (top career tackler with 481) and Chuck Faucette (second on the all-time list with 466).
"He's like a poor man's Mark D'Onofrio [Penn State linebacker drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers]," said Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's draft analyst and college football commentator. "Right now, he's a middle-round draft pick, but if he has a good scouting combine, and plays well in an all-star game, he could go higher. He doesn't have much speed, but neither did D'Onofrio. But both of those guys are always around the ball. Jarmolowich is aggressive, alert, gets off the blocks well and stays on his feet."
Jarmolowich has always been an overachiever. He was a 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver and linebacker for Union High's New Jersey state championship team, but not one college recruited him, even though Tennessee recommended that he play at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
Major-college scouts told Jarmolowich he was too slow to be a receiver and too small to play linebacker. Reluctantly, Jarmolowich played for Fork Union, which eventually got him some Division I-AA offers, but only two from the major colleges.
Jarmolowich chose Maryland over Wake Forest, but he never forgot the rejections.
"It seems like people have been telling me what I can't do all my life," said Jarmolowich. "I'm in that position again, people telling me I'm too slow to play in the NFL. The key part of this game is your mental approach, and if your not mentally ready, you won't last on the field. By the time a game starts, I feel like a caged animal."
NOTE: Senior Dave deBruin, expected to start at guard this season, was given the OK to practice yesterday after he passed a physical. DeBruin failed an earlier physical because his knee had not completely healed from off-season knee surgery. He is not expected to play in the Terps' season opener against Virginia, even though he will travel with the team.